Finding Our Way
I John 3:16-24
When Winnie-the-Pooh got lost that time he found his way home by getting free of the distractions (Rabbit talking) and went straight for the truth which in his case was his 12 honey pots waiting for him at home. Never in the history of the world have we been so distracted. There are so many voices talking to us today that if we aren't careful we will be so lost that we don't even know we are lost anymore. Never has there been a time when Pilate's question was more timely. 'What is truth?' he asked the beaten Jesus and Jesus just stood there in silence as the answer that he did not want to know.
There are a lot of scriptures in the Bible. Some are beautiful beyond words. Some are tedious. Some are frightening. Some are discomforting. Some are just strange. Some are confusing. All tell the truth but some tell the truth better than others and this passage in John's first epistle this morning is one such scripture for me. It is a truth teller of the highest order. It tells what love is.
We don't usually think of John's writings as being that succinct. Such verbal adventures as: ' I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may believe thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me' leave us shaking our heads sometimes but the word today from John leaves the rarefied air of spiritual niceties to speak plainly and bluntly: Love is when you lay your life down for another. How can it be that Gods love abides in anyone who has the world's goods and does not share them with a brother or sister in need? Let us not love in word or speech but in deed. In deed. A deed is something one does. Love is what we do not just what we think or feel.
Such love even is the difference between life and death. (I am not making this up. It is written in 1 John 3.14: We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.) It is how we know we have passed from death to life. Plain enough for us? Maybe not. This seems to imply that we are not alive just because we are breathing. On the other hand, maybe we do know or can imagine what it is to abide in death. If there is no love what is there?
Our business as the followers of Jesus is to love, to lay our lives down for others. What this means exactly and particularly will vary but what it means for everybody is that life is about giving something of ourselves up for the sake of somebody else, making sacrifices for the good of others. I don't know how else to say it. We are here for each other. Love is what we do to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and our enemies. When we do so we abide in God. We spoke about this before. When we abide in God we are rewarded with a big and solid peace that is a peace in every circumstance of life, a peace that holds us steady and lifts us up and calls our name and comforts our pain and challenges our comfort. This is God we are talking about abiding in us even as we abide in God (now that is the John we remember) I notices the Dalai Lama said at Harvard this week that compassion is brings life to life or something like that. The love that lays itself down is a love that is familiar with compassion. Compassion is not simply an emotion we feel for those we are fond of but is what breaks our heart when we see anyone, even our enemies suffer. God is love, it is written and when we abide in God we know also God's compassion, the compassion that is broken and poured out for the suffering of the world.
But we can't abide in God and hate our brother which in radical Jesus world means anybody. We can't hate anybody and love God. Isn't possible. Won't work. Can' be. It is like saying you are standing up when you are sitting down. Just ain't so. (Somebody say amen) We can't abide in God and at the same time live with plenty and let our brothers and sisters go without what they need to live at all. Doesn't matter what the circumstances are according to this simple blunt word in John's epistle: How does God's love abide in anyone who has and sees another who has not and yet refuses to help?
Just like Jesus himself we have the power to lay our life down and the power not to. The choice we make about that will change our lives forever.
In this Holy Communion we remember what that meant for Jesus. His body is broken. His blood poured out. In his self-giving we join in the desire to know what love is. We join in the compassion of God even as we are saved by God's compassion. This meal is what love is. It is where we remember who laid down his life for us and it is where we offer to lay down our lives for others, for the world, for the sake of love, the love that will, in fact save us all one day.
Here in John's words we are finding our way to what is true about life, about what love is, about the difference between life and death. Here at the table we are finding our way to God's heart to receive God's grace, to abide in God so that we can go into the world again with God's compassion and love. The way of God is the way of self-giving love, love that knows compassion for the suffering of others, love that will not rest until there is justice for all even when there is no end in sight of injustice, love that never gives up on love as the hope of the world that is in fact still broken and oppressed by hate and death.
The way of God is our way home. Finding our way is like finding ourselves. When we find life in God we will know what life is and maybe understand better how life without God could in fact be more like death than we care to think. It is a way we can choose or not. It has always been this way. It is written in the amazingingly connected and holy word that God has placed before us life and death and we must choose. Moses it was who said it to his people long ago: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live . . .
And ever since that day our choices have taken us from sorrow to gladness and back again. We have built up and destroyed, loved and hated, given and kept to ourselves the treasures of life. We are still finding our way but today is as good a time as any to remember what love is because love, the love that lays its life down, that helps those we have never met before rebuild their lives in New Orleans, love that feeds the homeless and the hungry in a church basement in Waltham, love that battles malaria and saves the lives of children, love that supports the ministries of the church so that the word can be spoken and heard and the love of Christ can be known, love that offers safety and rest for the refugees, love that brings comfort and hope to the imprisoned, love that lays its life down is the way to God and to peace and to life.
Thanks be to God as we are finding our way we are being found in the arms of God.
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